Death cafes remove mystery from the end

By Jesse Wright

Talking about death isn’t easy, but Rebekka James tries to make it painless.

James guides Death Cafes, discussions around the end of life, aimed at older people who need to plan for the end. In September she hosted a discussion in Streeterville. She will host a cafe anywhere, for free.

The Death Cafe provides a safe, confidential forum where people are invited to discuss thoughts about death, dying, and mortality freely and openly,” James said. “While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea (though tea is served), many people have questions, feel fear, suffer loss, and simply wonder about the future.” 

James usually hosts the cafes in a public space, such as a library, though she’s also done private Death Cafes. She said a variety of people of all ages attend. The cafes were started by Bernard Crettaz and Jon Underwood, and to host an “official” cafe through the deathcafe.com website, James said a leader needs to follow certain guidelines.

The guide states, ‘The Death Café model is an agenda-free discussion, with topics determined by attendees,’” James said. “Facilitators are there to move the discussion if it stalls.”

She said each cafe is different. The best maximum is 10-12 people and the conversation moves according to who is present and what they want to discuss.

“That’s the beauty of this forum,” she said.

Generally people talk about familiar topics, including power of attorney information, health care information and how one even begins talking about death with family.

James is also a registered celebrant with the Celebrant Foundation, an institution that trains people to officiate weddings and other celebrations. It’s at the foundation that she first heard the term death cafe.

I attended my first one in June of 2018, led by Sheryl Barajas. Sheryl had done a great deal of work promoting and establishing Death Cafes at numerous Chicago-area libraries.”

The schedule is at deathcafe.com. James said she regularly hosts cafes at the Wilmette and Arlington Heights libraries.
“Also, the cafe part is important—there will always be coffee, tea, and sweets to comfort the soul,” she said.

Chicago Bird Collision needs help collecting injured, dead birds

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

Each year nearly one billion birds die in collisions with buildings, according to a study in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” and the study considers Chicago to be the most hazardous city in America for birds.

Chicago sits in the center of a major migratory corridor. Birds, confused by office lights or the glow from a window late at night, become disoriented and slam into windows and fall to the street, dead or injured.

The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM) patrols downtown Chicago to find injured and deceased birds from sunrise to 9 a.m. Injured birds are brought to wildlife centers outside the city while dead birds are taken to the Field Museum for collection and study.

Ben Marks, Head of Zoological Collections and Collections Manager of Birds, estimates the Field receives nearly 5,000 specimens from about 140 different species of birds each year.

Mary Hennen, Assistant Collections Manager of Birds, said the specimens become part of the research collection. She said it’s important to track when and where the bird specimen was found to compare years and locations.

Researchers use that data to track migratory habits. For example, Hennen said a study on white throated sparrows showed the birds’ bill sizes were shrinking.

CBCM Director Annette Prince said if a bird is injured, pedestrians can trap it in a dark paper bag or box to calm the bird and then contact CBCM. She said even if the bird seems fine, it may have injuries that aren’t visible.

If the bird is dead, pedestrians should collect it in a plastic bag and call the CBCM and a volunteer will take it to the Field. Hennen said bird collectors should note when and where it was found.

To prevent bird collisions people should close curtains or make their windows less reflective. CBCM is working on a Bird Friendly Design Ordinance to make new construction less dangerous for migrating birds.

“These birds are not local birds,” Prince said. “They are global citizens in our city and since we are a central location, we owe it to them.

Contact CBCM at 773-988-1867 to report an injured or dead bird in Chicago.

Chicago Architecture Center announces new neighborhoods, buildings to be featured in annual open house

(Published Sept. 10, 2019)

The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) announced on Sept. 10 the full roster of neighborhoods and sites participating in Open House Chicago 2019—now in its ninth year and one of the largest architecture festivals in the world. This free two-day public event, taking place over the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20. It offers behind-the-scenes access to almost 350 sites in 37 neighborhoods, many rarely open to the public, including repurposed mansions, stunning skyscrapers, opulent theaters, exclusive private clubs, industrial facilities, cutting-edge offices and breathtaking sacred spaces. 

The new offerings in 2019 include a trail of dozens of theater venues and related sites, literally from A (Adventure Stage Chicago) to Z (Zap Props), celebrating the City’s 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre; an expansion into the Northwest side with the addition of Irving Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park joining communities highlighted in previous years of Open House Chicago; and an open invitation to visit the CAC at 111 E. Wacker Dr. throughout Open House Chicago weekend, free of charge, for an informative overview of Chicago’s rich architectural legacy.  

“The ninth annual Open House Chicago is our gift to this city. We’re excited for all Chicagoans to ‘choose their own adventure’ and explore new communities and experience the rich diversity that lies within the 37 neighborhoods included in OHC 2019,” said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of the CAC. “We’re also inviting people to discover the new  galleries at the Chicago Architecture Center for free on October 19 and 20. Chicago’s intrepid urban explorers who love our annual celebration of Chicago neighborhoods will discover that same authentic Chicago experience in our Chicago Gallery, home to the famous Chicago Model and skyscraper exhibits.”

Also new in 2019, Open House Chicago expands its presence on the Northwest Side with the addition of sites in the Irving Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park neighborhoods.  Highlights in the area include Irving Park’s Irish American Heritage Center, a former public school with a restored auditorium, private club room and Celtic art throughout; Jefferson Park’s Copernicus Center in the former Gateway Theater, an atmospheric 1930s movie palace transformed into a vibrant concert and theatrical venue; and Eris Brewery & Cider House, the award-winning adaptive reuse of an imposing former Masonic temple as home to a producer of distinctive ciders and beers.

For a complete list of participating sites, visit openhousechicago.org. Most Open House Chicago sites are free and do not require a reservation, but participants are encouraged to sign up to receive event e-newsletters and last-minute announcements. Get the latest news and fun facts about Open House Chicago by following the Chicago Architecture Center on Twitter (@chiarchitecture) and Facebook (facebook.com/chiarchitecture). In addition to free access, Open House Chicago offers activities at various sites all weekend long, including cultural performances, family festivals and more. Information about these programs will be added to the website later in September.

Select Open House Chicago sites require advance registration (usually due to security or capacity constraints) and will not accept drop-in visitors. TodayTix will charge a modest processing fee for most RSVP-only site bookings. Registration for these sites and lotteries opens on Sept. 10, and full information is available on the Open House Chicago website. 

Lake Shore Drive and Roosevelt Road bridges closed for repairs Sept. 11

(Published Sept. 9, 2019)

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced a full closure of the Lake Shore Drive Bridge over the Chicago River on Sept. 11 from 11 p.m. to Sept. 12 at 5 a.m. The full closure is required for the maintenance of the Lake Shore Drive Bridge. 

Northbound Upper-level and Lower-level Lake Shore Drive will be detoured to Mid-level Wacker Drive, to Northbound Columbus Drive, to Eastbound Illinois Street, and back to Northbound Lake Shore Drive. Southbound Upper-level and Lower-level Lake Shore Drive will be detoured to Westbound Grand Avenue, to Southbound Columbus Drive, to Eastbound Randolph Street, and back to Southbound Lake Shore Drive. 

Cirrus work to start this week

(Published Sept. 5, 2019)

According to Cirrus spokespeople, as work continues on the Lakeshore East Cirrus sales gallery site (the parcel between The Shoreham and The Lancaster),work will start this week in the existing parkway to make a clear area for the trailer delivery.  While some parkway landscaping will be disturbed, significant new landscaping will be provided in the park adjacent to the sales gallery.

During this activity, there will be traffic controls in place to maintain access through the roadway, but there may be interment delays.  Pedestrian access will be routed to the opposite side of the roadway. 

Though upper building delayed, GEMS grows academically

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

While the new GEMS World Academy’s new upper school building will not be ready by the start of school, GEMS head Tom Cangiano said plenty of other new classes and programs will debut this school year.

The new building will add classes and gym space for students. Initially, the school planned to open the new facility this fall, in time for the 2019/2020 year, but Cangiano said the space will instead open later over the winter, in early 2020.

Nevertheless, the school’s high school program is getting underway with 40 students registered. While the building nears competition, GEMS students are attending courses in the Gleacher Center, at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, across the river.

With the high school program underway, the private school is on the cusp of achieving its International Baccalaureate certification as an IB World School, meaning the school will be able to offer a diploma program, the first private school in the state to offer such a program.

Matt Arado, the associate director of communications for GEMS, said the program encourages student creativity and collaboration and, increasingly, an IB diploma is seen as a boon among universities.

“More and more colleges look very well on IB diploma graduates as opposed to other non-IB kids of programs,” he said.

Cangiano said GEMS is also strengthening its curriculum. The school has always encouraged courses and students to explore the city and now he said those lessons are being formalized.

“Our whole idea is we talk a lot about global citizenship,” Cangiano said. “We’re trying to make sure our kids really understand the region of Chicago, its environmental concerns, the economy and how the city government works.”

The program will incorporate lessons from pre-kindergarten through the high school level and cover six topic areas.

“I hope students understand an urban system and all its complexity and I think that’s politics demographics, environmental concerns and other nominal issues like infrastructure, and that they have a good understanding of that,” Cangiano explained.

He added that by the time the students graduate, he expects they will understand the various challenges facing a city as well as some solutions for those challenges.

This year the school is on track to meet its goal of 450 students. By late August, Cangiano said the school had enrolled around 410 students, with several weeks to go before the year started. This is an increase over last year’s goal of 365 students.

The school is welcoming 15 new faculty to the campus and, this year, even Cangiano is teaching a course. Cangiano’s background is English, and he’ll be teaching ninth grade English this year.

Among the books on his reading list are standards like Romeo and Juliet, Antigone and the Odyssey, though he is also including “Trumbull Park,” a fictionalized account of the racial strife facing black people in Chicago during housing integration. Cangiano said the book choice is part of the school’s effort to teach Chicago.

The school is currently accepting applications for all grades through 12th grade for the 2020-2021 school year and there are limited seats available for the current year. The school’s public open house will be Oct. 26 and for more information, visit info.gemsworldacademy-chicago.com.

Ballet Chicago provides exceptional instruction to all ages

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

For the News

Ballet Chicago was founded by Daniel Duell and Patricia Blair in 1987. Their goal was to create exceptional dancers and people by fostering personal growth as well as teaching fundamental life skills. Duell and Blair have built a world-renowned company through their unparalleled dedication to training at the highest level, holding between them two illustrious careers as leading ballet dancers, instructors, and administrators. 

The school itself is as inspirational as the curriculum and teachers. Located in the heart of downtown, Ballet Chicago’s facility contains five state-of-the-art studios with panoramic views and all of the supporting amenities needed. Ballet Chicago draws over 500 young people from across the country for its annual and summer programs. Dancers participate in one of three divisions: Preparatory (ages 3 to 6), Student (ages 6 to 12), and Professional (13 and older).

Ballet Chicago’s Preparatory Division classes provide an inspired introduction to the arts with a focus on creativity, group interaction, motor skill development, and the joy of self-expression. The Student Division consists of classes for Level 1 through Level 5 and includes our special Bravo Boys! classes. All students are offered the opportunity to participate in Ballet Chicago’s annual Nutcracker at the historic Athenaeum Theater.

Ballet Chicago is where artistic excellence and content of character forge the next generation.

Learn more and register at www.balletchicago.org.

Address: 17 N State St. Suite 1900, Chicago, IL, 60602

Phone: 312-251-8838

Portion of Navy Pier Flyover to temporarily close

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

According to Alderman Brendan Reilly’s office, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will temporarily close the new section of the Navy Pier Flyover that opened last December on Sept. 3. 

The flyover will re-open in late September.


The closure is required in order to connect the completed segment to the second phase of the project, which is nearing completion. The closure was delayed until after Labor Day to avoid the height of biking season. 

During this closure, pedestrians and bicyclists will be directed with signage to use the old route of the Lakefront Trail at street level across Illinois and Grand on Lower Lake Shore Drive. 


When the trail reopens, the two portions of the trail will connect a temporary bridge to the east sidewalk of the Lake Shore Drive Bridge. A ramp from the Flyover down to Navy Pier and Illinois Street will also be open at that time.


Work will continue through the fall on Phase 3 of the Navy Pier Flyover. It involves retrofitting the existing LSD Bridge with a cantilever structure on the east side of the span that will allow for widening the trail to eliminate the existing bottlenecks users encounter. 

Navigating drone laws may be tricky for operators in Chicago

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff writer

It may be tempting to fly a drone downtown whether to get a bird’s eye view on the Lollapalooza crowds or to get a unique shot of the skyline, it may be impossible to do so legally. 

Chicago’s laws allow drone operators to fly their craft with a permit, but according to afficionados, getting a permit is near impossible thanks to confusing, byzantine rules. 

“All drones are restricted unless given a permit for flying,” said Anthony Guglielmi, Chief Communications Officer of Chicago Police Department. 

In addition to a permit, operators have to get permission from the property owner and in the case of Grant Park, that would be the Chicago Parks District. Without that permission and without a permit, operators face citations. 

Jeffrey Antonelli is a drone enthusiast and also a lawyer, and he believes the city’s laws wouldn’t stand up in court. Antonelli points out that since the Federal Aviation Administration regulates air space and not the city, Chicago’s air regulations would probably be thrown out if someone challenged them in court. Nevertheless, Antonelli said he doesn’t fly drones in the city.

Alan Perlman, CEO of UAV Coach, a drone training company, said the FAA classified Grant Park airspace as Class G, meaning it is uncontrolled airspace, so recreational drone pilots should be able to fly there under federal law. 

Even so, getting a permit is hard. 

Antonelli said some people have tried getting a permit from the park district and while he’s heard some success stories, he’s been unable to get one. 

“The city doesn’t have a uniform answer,” Antonelli said. 

A spokesperson for the parks district could not explain how to get a permit. 

The FAA mandates that people cannot fly drones over people or cars for safety concerns and pilots must be able to see their drone at all times and they cannot fly higher than 400 feet.

Perlman said people should first learn how to use their drone. 

“You are bringing a flying lawnmower into the air. It’s really important to have intimate understanding of how the aircraft works.” 

Celebrating two years at the American Writers Museum

(Published July 30, 2019)

Elisa Shoenbergeer, Staff writer

The American Writers Museum celebrated its two year anniversary in May 2019.

This museum, located at 180 N. Michigan Avenue on the 2nd floor, first opened its doors in May 2017. Since opening their doors, the museum has had over 80,000 visitors and around 10,000 students, according to Carey Cranston, President of the Museum.

When asked why the museum’s work is so important, Cranston explained, “The country was founded on the written word. It’s very much a part of the fabric of our culture how important that writing has been.” He cited the example of Frederick Douglass whose work on slavery helped change the history of the US.

In its two years, the museum featured special exhibitions on Bob Dylan, Frederick Douglass as well as bringing in authors and scholars, such as Nnedi Okorafor and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to speak about their work. 

Moreover, the museum’s education program has grown in the past two years.  In the first year, the museum had a grant to make field trips free for under resourced schools to bring the students into the museum, explained Cranston. The museum has developed curriculum for kids during their time at the visit as well as lessons before and after the visit for teachers.

This past year, the museum was able to offer travel subsidies since bringing the students to the museum was a barrier for some schools. Cranston explained that this field trip programs helped inspire kids about writing. When they had Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak about her children’s book, Turning Pages: My Life Story, school children from Horace Greeley Elementary School had the opportunity to meet with her before her talk in the Green room and ask questions of her during her talk to a room of 700 people.

Recently, the museum opened up “Tools of the Trade” at the end of June that features the typewriters of many American writers, such as John Lennon, Ernest Hemmingway, Ray Bradbury, Sandra Cisneros and many more. The museum found that visitors were fascinated by manual typewriters ever since the museum opened. “We found people loved the old manual typewriters,” said Cranton. “When the kids on the field trips come, they go nuts for the chance to type on them.” The museum worked with Steve Soboroff, a collector and philanthropist, along with other institutions to bring the typewriters of famous authors to the museum. 

The exhibit will be open until 2020.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

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